Chapter 29. Cambridge Revisited
It must be obvious that something happened, all those years ago, that dramatically affected my confidence in the ganzfeld. I came home from Cambridge, tearful and exhausted, and unable to talk to anyone, other than Tom, about what had gone on. Now that reports of the incident have been published, I can explain what did happen in that fateful week in Carl Sargent’s laboratory.
In this account, I rely on my personal diaries, the notes I made at the time, letters between myself, Carl and the others involved, and the published and unpublished accounts I wrote in the years that followed (Blackmore 1987).
You may remember that I had gone to the Cambridge Psychology Laboratory after the failure of my own experiments, to try to find out why Carl was getting such exceptionally good results (p 129). On the very first day I arrived, I was invited in to observe a typical ganzfeld session. There was Carl, and his colleague Trevor Harley, with a student experimenter called Gerry. Trevor was to be the sender, or agent, in this session and he had brought along a friend to be the ganzfeld subject. Everyone was listening to music, drinking coffee and the atmosphere was very pleasant and relaxed.
I watched as Gerry took the subject into the large and airy experimental room to make him ready for the ganzfeld session. Right in the middle was a mattress on the floor with a red light poised over it. Gerry asked the subject to lie down, taped halved Ping-Pong balls over his eyes and placed headphones, playing white noise, on his ears. Having fixed these, he turned on the red light and retired to an observation room next door, from where he could watch the subject and write down everything that he said during the half hour or so of the session. At the end of the session he and the subject would go through the transcript, compare it with each of four pictures, and decide which one the sender had been looking at.
Meanwhile the rest of us, having synchronised our watches, set off down the corridor to Carl’s office. I was now going to watch how the randomisation was done. This is a critical part of any ESP experiment, since you can only be sure you have ESP if the targets have been randomly chosen, and neither the subject nor the experimenter can find out what they are.
On a shelf to the right of the room was a long row of large brown envelopes, containing all the pictures that would be used as targets – in 28 sets. Each numbered set consisted of four pictures, one of which would be the target that the sender looked at. These possible targets were individually sealed in large brown envelopes labelled A,B,C, and D, and with them was another large envelope containing a complete duplicate set for the experimenter and subject to look at when doing their judging.
The first task was to choose one set. Carl opened the large book of random numbers and picked one. He gave the four sealed envelopes to Trevor and placed the envelope with the duplicate set in front of him on the desk. This would later be picked up by the experimenter for doing the judging. Now the critical part began – to choose whether A,B,C,or D would be the target.
In the middle of the desk was a pile of small brown envelopes. Carl again consulted the random number tables, took the pile of small envelopes, cut it according to the random numbers, cut it again, and pulled out one envelope. The pile, he explained, contained twenty envelopes each with a letter inside, five A’s, five B’s and so on. He had no idea which letter was inside the one he had picked. He gave it to Trevor and Trevor left. Only when he reached the sender’s room, in a distant building, would Trevor open the small envelope, see which letter was to be target, and open the large envelope containing that target picture. No one else would know, until the subject had made his guess, which picture it was. We sat and waited.
About half an hour later Gerry came in (saying nothing) to fetch the duplicate picture set. Then soon afterwards he was back to say that he and the subject had completed the judging. They had compared each picture with the ganzfeld experiences and chosen the one they thought corresponded best. Gerry had then rung Trevor, across in the next building, to tell him to come over with the answer. We all trooped back to the experimental room where the four pictures were lying on the table. They had chosen a picture of four men carrying trays of food. Trevor arrived, opened his envelope and showed us. It was the same picture. Another hit!
I was impressed. I knew this one could just be luck, but within a couple of days I watched five sessions. Three produced direct hits; that is the target was ranked at number 1. That meant a hit rate of 60 per cent instead of the 25 per cent expected by chance. Something was certainly going on. But what?
I can still remember the awkward mixture of feelings this engendered. I was excited but scared too. Real results were coming in. Either they were psi at last – and I must seriously revise my increasingly skeptical views – or there was some truly devious problem with the design that I had so far overlooked. This second possibility seemed less and less likely as I watched.
However, I couldn’t lightly accept the first. I concluded that I would not be doing my job properly if I didn’t try to find loopholes and so I applied myself to thinking up every conceivable way round the protocol. I soon realised that I had to keep detailed and accurate notes of everything that went on. I still have these notes and they are available to anyone who wants to consult them.
Right from the start, I could see there was no obvious loophole. All the classic problems had been solved, and very elegantly. There were duplicate target sets so that finger prints or other clues could not be used. The sender was well away from the receiver and, as far as I could tell, they could not communicate in any normal way. The sender had to bring proof of which envelope he had opened (with the other three still sealed up) so that he could not lie about the randomisation when he saw the subject’s choice (or when the experimenter rang him). The experimenter might be able to affect the subject’s choice during the judging, but this would not matter because he could not know which target had been chosen. It looked watertight.
Feeling as though I was clutching at straws, I decided to check every last possibility.
The thought occurred to me that it would be quite easy to guess which picture a subject would choose, especially if you knew him or her well. People tend to have recurring themes in their ganzfeld experiences, just as they do in their dreams. But the protocol made it impossible for anyone artificially to select the target they wanted. Didn’t it? I wondered whether someone could mark the little brown envelopes and so fix which picture was to be target. I checked the envelopes and could see no signs of marking, nor any easy way of identifying them. I held them up to the light. Inside, the letters were well wrapped up and could not be seen at all. I wondered whether the whole pile might be switched for a different one that looked the same. I checked and was sure it was not.
I wasn’t entirely happy about making these covert observations. I felt it was necessary, to be sure the experiment was working properly, and Carl had generously given me the run of his room and invited me to watch every aspect of the procedures. But I felt like a spy. I was already looking forward to the day – soon I hoped – when I would run out of ideas and have to conclude that the results were real. I could then turn my energies to facing up to psi!
Another idea came to me. Could a determined experimenter “push” a subject to pick a given picture during the judging? After all, this was a lengthy process in which the experimenter and subject together discussed the experiences and compared them with the pictures. The experimenter could certainly have some influence here. But he couldn’t possibly know what the target was, so how could this matter? Could he?
I suddenly realised something terribly obvious. I did not yet fully understand the implications of this complicated randomisation procedure. The twenty little envelopes contained five A’s, five B’s and so on. But after one had been selected, there would only be 19 left in the pile. It would now be biased against the letter that had been selected. So what happened next? Carl explained that the replacement took place after each trial, or at least before the next one began. Obviously the missing envelope had to be replaced with one that was the same letter, to bring the pile back into balance. That meant, I realised with foreboding, that somewhere there had to be little envelopes with known letters in.
There were. These were kept in four small drawers to the left of the desk. After each trial the experimenter could look up which letter had been target in that trial, take a corresponding envelope from the drawers to the left and put the pile back into balance. The next trial could then proceed.
The faint sickness I had been feeling over the past couple of days began to get worse. I hated feeling like a spy and had to struggle with myself to work out what was right. If there was really psi going on here it was very important and we needed to know. Equally, if there was not, we had to know what was wrong. If nothing was wrong my trivial observations would not matter. They could all laugh at me if they liked but I would be glad I had checked everything and would be able to say that – as far as I was concerned – the experiments were perfectly well carried out and the results genuine. So I carried on.
With drawers containing known envelopes, all sorts of new ideas were possible. Some one might make a mistake. For example they might replace the wrong envelope and no one would realise this had happened. The pile would then be biased – for example containing an extra “A” or too few “D”s. But this would not really matter. At least, it could hardly be blamed for the tremendous excess of hits I had seen. Such an accidental bias might conceivably produce a change of a few percent, but not the string of hits we seemed to be getting. What was more worrying was the possibility of manipulation.
This was getting really devious, I thought, but then I must see this through. What if the person who did the randomization just took a known envelope from the drawer instead of one from the pile? If he knew the subject well he might be able to guess which picture would be picked and so create a hit. This would be far more effective than a simple accidental bias in the pile but surely no one would ….
I could check. Throughout the history of parapsychology people have suspected other experimenters. I thought of Hansel snooping about in Rhine’s lab (Hansel, 1966), of Price’s speculations in the 1950s, and of the many people who argued over Soal’s results (see p 116-7). Here I could at least check up on my suspicions. If the randomiser deliberately took a known envelope from the drawer, the pile would still have 20 envelopes in and someone might notice. So the sensible thing for him to do would be to remove another envelope from the pile and hide it, or destroy it. In this case two envelopes, not one, would be used up in one trial. Also the drawer would be opened, and a known envelope removed, before, not after, the trial.
I could easily see whether this happened.
In addition the pile of 20 would become biased. This I could not check – at least not without opening the envelopes and I did not want to do this. I wished only to make observations that did not interfere with the running of the experiment. I decided this would be the very last check I would make. Carefully I counted the numbers of envelopes in each of the four drawers and wrote a list in my notes.
It was now Saturday evening. Carl and his group worked ever so hard. We finished about 7 p.m. and were due to start again after lunch on Sunday. I went gratefully to bed, totally oblivious to what the next day would bring.
On Sunday afternoon I watched yet another hit, the fourth so far, and then a near miss (the target was ranked second). The third session of the day was about to begin and I was writing up my notes. “I am really seeing it working” I wrote. I checked the list of envelopes. After the previous session, the main pile should contain 19 envelopes, which it did. The drawers, from A to D, contained 11, 19, 9, 17.
With Carl’s encouragement I had been watching, and then taking part in, every aspect of the experiments. For this session I was to help set up the subject and then watch from the observation room. A student called Keith was running this session and, officially, Carl was to have no role in it at all. Carl rushed in and out again. “Carl flitting about, seemed anxious and distracted” I wrote in my notes. The notes seemed to be getting a bit out of hand but I really did not know what was important and what was not, so I simply recorded as much as I could.
It was an odd session. For this experiment the subject had to have only 15 minutes in ganzfeld, and he said very little during this time. So when it came to judging the four pictures, he and Keith seemed to be having a lot of trouble. In the midst of this Carl unexpectedly appeared and took over. He checked the notes and began pointing out similarities to the pictures, especially to one of them. In no time it seemed that “B” was the best correspondence, but the marks were very close. Keith was trying to keep up with Carl. He rapidly added up the scores for each picture (in fact wrongly, as we later discovered) and asked the subject for his final guess. “B” he said. Back came Trevor, with the familiar big envelope – and a “B”. Yet another direct hit.
I added a few lines to my notes “Carl came in for judging, pushed to B – anyway B chosen – was B – hit!!” I looked back over my previous notes. 5 direct hits out of 8. It really was impressive. I had a lot to think about.
That night there was to be a meeting of the Cambridge SPR and I was looking forward to having something to take my mind off the experiments, but first I had to check the drawers and finish my notes.
I walked back to Carl’s office. The door was open, as usual, and I could see the pile of envelopes on the desk. 19 – correct. I opened the four drawers and counted, writing down the numbers one by one, 11, 18, 9, 16. I counted again, and again. Oh no. There it was. The thing that deep down inside I had never really expected. One of my crazy predictions had come true. Two envelopes had gone, not one.
I counted again, with shaking hands. Which was gone? Which should have gone? The target for the previous trial had been “D”, so for the normal replacement a “D” should have been used. That was right – a “D” had gone. But what else was missing? It was a “B”.
Oh no. Could that missing “B” have been used for the trial we had just completed? Could someone have taken that “B” from the drawer instead of from the pile? I began to feel sick. I was in danger of panicking. Only then did I realise that right up to that point my speculations had been purely academic. I hadn’t really believed in them. Now it was serious. I had made a prediction about a method of cheating and it had come true. I had to think.
I tried to calm down. I had thought that Carl had pushed the subject towards “B” but this could have been a coincidence and, most importantly, Carl had had nothing to do with the randomisation. Trevor had been the sender and would have done the randomisation himself just before the trial began. There could have been no way in which Carl could have known the target was “B”, and so no point in his trying to influence the subject. I breathed more easily. I completed my notes and gratefully set off for a distracting evening with the CUSPR.
On Monday things seemed far better. We had two more sessions, a hit with Carl present and a miss with him absent, and the replacements all went correctly. I spoke to no one about my fears, though I kept thinking of ways to disprove them. If I was right, an extra envelope should be somewhere – the dustbin? hidden somewhere? I would surely have no chance of finding that. But more importantly the main pile should now be biased and would probably contain an extra “B”. Of course I couldn’t check that without asking Carl. I decided to pluck up courage and speak to him at the next opportunity.
It was on Tuesday morning that we learned Carl had flu. And so I ended up sharing some of my fears and suspicions with Trevor, though I did not tell him about Sunday’s events. Trevor was straight and helpful. He clearly believed completely in the results and was sick of my endless doubts. If I wanted to find out the truth, he said, then we should open all the envelopes and find out. And that is just what we did.
I checked my notes. There were 19 envelopes. The last target had been “A” and not yet replaced. So the pile should be 4,5,5,5. I opened them all and laid them out carefully. 5,6,4,4. So there it was. The pile was biased. There was an extra “A” and an extra “B”.
Now it was obvious that this could have happened purely by accident. Someone might have been careless in replacing the envelopes, but Trevor didn’t think so. He explained that Carl always did the replacement himself and would not make such mistakes. I wondered whether there might be errors in the drawers too. We opened the envelopes there and found 2 “D”s under the “A”s.
Trevor was not as worried as I was. He began doing some calculations. From this he concluded that any bias in the main pile would have only a negligible effect on the results. It could not produce anything like the 60 per cent hit rate we had been seeing. I agreed; I had thought this through many times. But why, he wanted to know, had I expected an extra “B”? Now I had to tell him about Sunday afternoon.
He remembered Sunday afternoon all too well. And this is what he told me. The session was to be a short one, only 15 minutes, so there would be little time for the randomisation, and Trevor knew that he would be able to get there only just before it started. He had therefore asked Carl to make sure everything was ready for him – so that he could do the randomising quickly. Apparently Carl had mistakenly thought that Trevor meant that he (Carl) was to do the randomisation. Trevor arrived to find the picture set and the little brown envelope already selected. Not thinking this mattered, Trevor took the pictures and went off to be sender.
This wouldn’t matter, Trevor insisted, because Carl was not the experimenter and would not be there at the judging. But of course he had been. Officially Carl had had nothing to do with this trial. His name would not be in the record book at all. However, I now knew that he had done the randomisation, been in at the judging, apparently encouraged the subject to choose “B”. “B” was the target and a “B” had gone missing from the drawer.
We decided to put everything back – not as it had been, but as it should have been. We got new envelopes of the same sort and put all the little letters back inside. Then Trevor began thinking about how he could prove that the problem was not serious. He needed the record book but couldn’t find it. It was in searching the office, looking for it, that we found more envelopes, hidden under books and papers; a “C”, a “D”, 3 “A”s, but no “B”s. Trevor could think of no reason why they should have been there, and explained that, for the start of this series of experiments, he and Carl had made up equal numbers of envelopes for each letter, in a kind of envelope they had never used before. We put everything back and decided to do nothing for the moment.
The next day Carl was still ill. We did two more sessions with the students but both were misses. It was not until the following day that we were able to speak to Carl.
I had hoped to do this myself, but in the end it was Trevor, not I, who told him what had been going on. By the time I spoke to Carl he knew what had happened. He spoke very calmly, and coldly. He said that the “B” had gone missing from the drawer because he had found a bent envelope in the main pile and had had to destroy it. He claimed to have told Trevor this at the time and Trevor now seemed to agree – although two days before he had been unable to think of any reason why a “B” should disappear.
Carl said that the errors in the pile and drawers were just that, errors. They could easily have come about by accident and, in any case, would have little effect on the results.
He said the envelopes found around the room must have been left over from a previous experiment.
Feeling leaden and confused, I apologised and Carl accepted. He said he had been more upset on Trevor’s behalf than his own, and because of all the other people I had troubled with my doubts and suspicions.
It was my last day in Cambridge. We discussed what checks could be made now and agreed that we could discuss them all when I returned for a further three weeks in January.
That night I sat alone in confusion. I had not found out the answer. I had apparently upset lots of people. Nothing was clear or simple. If only I had …, If only … I wrote in my diary “I don’t think I’ve ever felt so very alone, so very responsible and quite so lost in all my life.” And that was how I returned to Pear Tree Cottage for Christmas.
Of course I never did go back in January. I wrote to Carl to suggest dates and plans for our work together but he did not reply. Finally I rang him and that was when he told me that he never wanted to see me in his lab again. I can’t say I blamed him but it destroyed my last hopes for getting to the bottom of what had happened without having to tell anyone else about it.
By then only Tom, and a very few people in Cambridge, knew what had gone on. I had told no one else, but I could not keep it that way for ever. I felt I had to find out the truth behind Carl’s results and this kept me going. I thought it important. If psi exists then science needs to know about it – for the world cannot be the kind of place most scientists assume. Proof of psi’s existence would change our views of human communication, and even of space and time. This was far more important than the details of any one person’s life, or their feelings or difficulties. I believed it was right for me to persevere. That, as far as I can tell, is why I went on trying to understand whether Carl’s results were genuine or not.
I had to write a report for the SPR, who had funded my visit. I decided I would send this to Carl and invite him to write his own version. Both versions would then be available, and I hoped that people who read them would make up their own minds and some kind of consensus would arise. Perhaps other people would decide where the truth lay. I only hoped that journalists, or others who wanted to make a nasty story out of it, wouldn’t get hold of the report and make things even harder for Carl. So I marked my report “confidential”, meaning that only SPR members could read it.
As it turned out, nothing went as I had naively hoped. I didn’t realise that almost no one would bother to read the report and that even people who did read it would fail to understand it, nor that Carl would never write up his version. I didn’t reckon on the rumours, which would increasingly proliferate for years to come. I never imagined I would later be accused both of trying to “cover up” the truth by failing to publish my findings (how unfair that seemed!) and of starting the rumours myself (when I had tried so hard to avoid doing so). I did not foresee that Carl would refuse when other parapsychologists asked to look at his data.
The reason others wanted the data was simple. If fraud had taken place there would be tell-tale signs to look for. Adrian Parker and Nils Wiklund, parapsychologists from Sweden, made one proposal of this kind and asked for the data.
I was thrilled about this. The worst thing was not knowing. If someone else, quite independently, made checks on the data, we might find out – or at least get a bit closer to knowing the truth. I felt so responsible. I did not know whether I was in the process of wrongly destroying the work and career of the best psi experimenter there was. Perhaps someone else could find out.
Carl refused to make his data available. After informal requests for the data failed, an official request was made through the Parapsychological Association. This also failed and in 1984 the PA established a committee to investigate. I gladly supplied all the information I had and once again (and once again, naively) hoped that this would settle the matter.
It did not. Carl was reprimanded for failing to respond to their request for information within a reasonable time but still no one could be sure what had really gone on in his experiments.
Finally, in 1987, the whole affair was published in three articles in the SPR journal. I wrote a report. Trevor Harley and Gerry Matthews responded and said that I was guilty of “extreme prejudice in her reporting of the events and in their interpretation” (p 199) and that the best interpretation of the events was minor experimental error. Carl entitled his response “Sceptical Fairytales from Bristol” and accused me of suppressing evidence and of having nothing but my own testimony to recount. He gave alternative explanations of everything I had observed and said that he was not prepared to supply his data – either to me, because I had had plenty of time to see it in Cambridge – nor to Parker, whom he accused of being incompetent and “an accomplished libeller” (p 217). He concluded “If I learned one thing in parapsychology, it is that results and statistics and data never changed anyone’s mind about anything: experience is the only arbiter.” (p 217).
Does it all matter? Does it matter what happened in Cambridge all those years ago? Sadly I think it does, although we still do not know the truth. There are so few strong pieces of evidence for psi that each one is important in the overall quest. Yet this one is clearly marred, at the very least by a series of accidental errors. Carl has now left the field of parapsychology but the data he gathered then in Cambridge carry on today as part of the evidence presented for psi.
They are there in the 1985 “Ganzfeld Debate”. In this famous dispute, critic and psychologist, Ray Hyman, analysed the 42 experiments then published using what is called meta-analysis. This allows one to compare the results of many experiments, to find an overall effect size, to detect common patterns and (of most relevance here) to test whether the overall effect can be attributed to flaws in the experiments. He argued that many of the studies were flawed, and that the better the quality of the study, the smaller the psi effect. Nine of the studies were Sargent’s.
Chuck Honorton, originator of the Ganzfeld-psi experiments, then carried out his own analysis, using 28 of the 42 studies (those that reported the number of direct hits). He concluded that there was a reliable effect that did not depend on any one experimenter and was not related to the quality of the study. This seemed to be good evidence for the reality of psi in the ganzfeld.
What worried me, was that Honorton had classified Sargent’s nine studies asadequate for randomisation (one of the several possible flaws he considered). But seven of these had used the method I observed in Cambridge. So I repeated Honorton’s calculation counting these as flawed for randomisation and found a significant correlation (r= -.32, t= 1.73, p<.05, 1-tailed) between randomisation and z-score, therefore agreeing with Hyman. I submitted a brief paper on this to the Journal of Parapsychology in January 1987. In February the editor wrote to inform me that it would be published but in fact it never was. I never found out why.
Meanwhile, the Ganzfeld Debate led to a healthy exchange between parapsychologists and skeptics, and to everyone agreeing on what would constitute a good experiment. On this basis, Chuck Honorton designed his now-famous autoganzfeld experiments, using a completely automated procedure (Honorton et al, 1991). The methods appeared to be extremely rigorous; the results were highly significant and the findings in line with those of the meta-analysis. Moreover, the effect did not appear to depend on any one experimenter or lab.
All this assumed greater significance when Honorton teamed up with Cornell psychologist, Daryl Bem, to provide a review of the ganzfeld literature for a mainstream journal. It was published in what is probably the world’s most prestigious psychology journal, Psychological Bulletin, to be read widely by psychologists who mostly know nothing of the past history of the subject.
They presented the same meta-analysis and the same autoganzfeld data, and concluded that “the psi ganzfeld effect is large enough to be of both theoretical interest and potential practical importance.” (Bem & Honorton, 1994, p 8).
Readers will see that “One laboratory contributed 9 of the studies. Honorton’s own laboratory contributed 5… Thus, half of the studies were conducted by only 2 laboratories.” (p6). What they will not learn is which laboratory this was. There is no mention of either Cambridge or Sargent, no references given to these studies, and certainly no hint that any doubt has been cast on them.
It makes me wonder about the point of all that painful investigation, when the findings are so quickly forgotten – or deliberately glossed over. Perhaps this does not matter, since further analyses show that the effect does not depend on these two laboratories. But as far as I am concerned, I cannot help wondering about all those other labs – and what I would find if I spent a week in any of them. But I doubt I ever shall. I can only say that the whole episode has dented my confidence in psi. It seems that every time I really delve into some aspect of the evidence, it simply slips away.
Spinelli never published his results in full. I had hoped that he would present a proper, detailed account of all his methods and results, for others to evaluate. As it is, only sketchy accounts have appeared. So, although Spinelli completed the mammoth task of testing over a thousand children, we still cannot confidently accept his conclusions.
I have not pursued the question of psi in children, though I did design some experiments to test twins. These showed that pairs of twins did better than other pairs when the sender was given the choice of target (as in Spinelli’s experiments) – in other words, when thinking alike could help them. In a true telepathy condition they did no better than other pairs and no better than chance (Blackmore & Chamberlain, 1993).
Despairing of finding psi myself I spent many years trying to understand why people might believe in the paranormal even if it doesn’t exist (Blackmore, 1992). I found that sheep (believers) were more prone to making probability misjudgements, which might lead them to think that perfectly ordinary coincidences need a psychic explanation. I also found that sheep are more willing to “see” things in confusing pictures, and to “hear” things in noise – suggesting that they may live in a more richly meaningful world, but at the cost of seeing some things that are simply not there. This work is interesting (at least to me) but it can never resolve the debate over psi. All these correlates of belief could equally be there whether psi exists, or whether it does not.
So does it? The ganzfeld work is making the biggest impact at the moment. Sadly, Honorton died in 1993, at the age of 46. His death was a blow to the field, and makes it harder to evaluate the evidence. However, others are carrying on with the autoganzfeld. Among them is the laboratory of the Koestler Chair at Edinburgh University, where Professor Robert Morris now leads a small team of parapsychological researchers. Perhaps we will one day find out whether the effect is real or not.
There are several other lines of research that appear promising. These include remote viewing, PK on living systems (Braud & Schlitz, 1994) and remote staring – that is, the ability to detect when someone is looking at you (Braud, Shafer & Andrews, 1993). Probably the most important, however, is PK with random number generators. Vast numbers of trials, conducted in many laboratories, apparently show small but reliable effects of intention on physical systems (Radin & Nelson, 1989). In addition there are other meta-analyses which show apparently reliable effects; for example in precognition (Honorton & Ferrari, 1989) and PK with dice (Radin & Ferrari, 1991).
Perhaps I should be convinced by all, or some of these. The trouble is that my experience teaches me not to be. Everywhere I have looked psi has seemed to slip away from me. And I cannot look everywhere.
I can only hope that, if psi is real, it will jump up and down in front of me and shout “change your mind”. And, since I have changed my mind more than once in the past -and survived, I know I can do it again.
I also know that the very idea of psi has got me nowhere. Parapsychology is often held up as the science of the future, the science that will tackle all those human questions about the nature of mind or the farther reaches of human experience; the science that will force a new paradigm to topple the old, and even as a route to spirituality. But it does not deliver.
The reason, I suggest, is not that there is no psi, for with its negative definition and all its other problems, we can never be sure of that. The real reason is that putative paranormal powers have absolutely nothing to do with the real mystery. The real mystery is there all right – in our questions about mind, consciousness and mystical experience. I made the stupid mistake of looking to psi for those answers. I shall not do so again, for parapsychology cannot provide them.
This is a strong statement, but one I stand by. I once described psi as a “red herring” and I would say the same now. If you want to understand the basis of mind, the nature of consciousness, or who you are – psi will not help you.
Let me then pick up the threads of a few things that have helped; things that have touched at the heart of that mystical experience all those years ago.
Taken from In Search of the Light Prometheus Books 1996